The *Believe Me* Paperback Tour is Shaping Up!

Believe Me 3dEerdmans Publishing is sending me back on the road with the paperback edition of Believe Me; The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump. Learn more about the tour, and how you can get involved, here or here.

The hardback tour, which included stops at the Midtown Scholar, Politics & Prose,  Hearts & Minds Bookstore, University of Chicago Seminary Co-Op Bookstore, Valparaiso University, Hope College, Taylor University, John Brown University, Southern Methodist University, Princeton University, Penn State University, University of Southern California, University of Colorado, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, among others.

The booking for the 2020 tour (January through Election Day) is underway.  This is what we have so far.  We are always adding dates.

February 2, 2020
Mechanicsburg (PA) Church of the Brethren

March, 12 2020
Midtown Scholar, Harrisburg.  Conversation with author Katherine Stewart

April 1, 2020
Malone College, Canton, OH

April 23-24, 2020
Festival of Faiths,  Louisville, KY

June 5, 2020
Policy History Conference, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ

September 17-19, 2020
Geneva College, Beaver Falls, PA

September 27- 29, 2020
Palm Beach Atlantic University, West Palm Beach, FL

Please send booking requests to Christine Walter: cwalter(at)messiah(dot)edu

White Evangelicals Fear the Future and Yearn for the Past

Believe Me 3dAs we have already noted, today is the release of the paperback edition of Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  As part of the roll-out, I am going to republish some of the piece I wrote back in the summer of 2018 when the hardback appeared. This piece was published at USA TODAY on July 8, 2018:

Donald Trump is about to name his second conservative Supreme Court justice now that Anthony Kennedy is retiring. Conservative evangelicals are celebrating. They have been waiting, to quote the Old Testament book of Esther, “for a time such as this.”

For the last year I have been thinking deeply about why so many of my fellow evangelical Christians support Donald Trump.

I have wondered why they backed his zero-tolerance immigration plan that separated families at the border. I have tried to make sense of why some of them give him a “mulligan” (to use Family Research Council President Tony Perkins’ now famous phrase) for his alleged adulterous affair with adult film star Stormy Daniels. Why did so many evangelicals remain silent, or offer tepid and qualified responses, when Trump equated white supremacists and their opponents in Charlottesville, Virginia last summer?

What kind of power does Trump hold over men and women who claim to be followers of Jesus Christ? Evangelical support for Trump goes much deeper than simply a few Supreme Court justices.

Like most Americans on Nov. 8, 2016, I sat in front of my television to watch election returns, fully expecting that Hillary Clinton would be declared the country’s first female president. When this did not happen, I was saddened and angry. But my emotions were less about the new president-elect and more about the way my fellow evangelicals were using their social media feeds to praise God for Donald Trump’s victory.

I sent off a quick tweet: “If this is evangelicalism — I am out.”

Five days later, I could barely muster the will to attend services at my central Pennsylvania evangelical megachurch. As I stood singing Christian worship songs, I looked around the room and realized that there was a strong possibility, if the reports and polls were correct, that eight out of every 10 people in that sanctuary — my brothers and sisters in my community of faith — had voted for Trump.

I eventually calmed down and decided that, at least for now, I would still use the word “evangelical” to describe my religious faith. The word best captures my belief in the “good news” of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I have experienced the life-transforming message of this Gospel and I have seen its power in the lives of others.

My raw emotions gave way to my training as a historian and my study of American religion. My distress about Trump’s election did not wane, but I should have seen this coming. Trump’s win was just the latest manifestation of a long-standing evangelical approach to politics.

Read the rest here.

A Short History of Evangelical Fear

Believe Me 3dAs we have already noted, today is the release of the paperback edition of Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  As part of the roll-out, I am going to republish some of the piece I wrote back in the summer of 2018 when the hardback appeared. This piece was published at The Atlantic on June 24, 2018:

White conservative evangelicals in America are anxious people. I know because I am one.

Our sense of fear, perhaps more than any other factor, explains why evangelicals voted in such large numbers for Donald Trump in 2016 and continue to support his presidency.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist and essayist Marilynne Robinson once wrote, “Fear is not a Christian habit of mind.” The great poet of the Jersey shore, Bruce Springsteen, sings, “Fear’s a dangerous thing, it can turn your heart black, you can trust. It’ll take your God-filled soul and fill it with devils and dust.”

Robinson and Springsteen echo verses in nearly every book of the Bible, the sacred text that serves as the source of spiritual authority in evangelical life. Moses told the Israelites to “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today.” The Hebrew God told Job: “At the destruction and famine you shall laugh, and shall not fear the beasts of the earth.” The Psalmist wrote: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff they comfort me.”

The Gospel of John teaches Christians that “there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” St. Luke writes: “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.

Despite all these scriptural passages, it is still possible to write an entire history of American evangelicalism as the story of a people failing miserably at overcoming fear with hope, trust, and faith in their God. But it is also possible to find evangelicals, drawing deeply from Christian theological resources, who sought to forge an alternative history.

A history of evangelical fear might begin with the 17th-century Puritans in Salem, Massachusetts, who feared that there were witches in their midst threatening their “city upon a hill” and their status as God’s new Israel. They responded to this fear by hanging 19 people.

But other evangelical options were available. As Puritans began to lose control over Massachusetts Bay, they might have turned to their sovereign God for guidance and trusted in his protection to lead them through a new phase in the history of the colony. Or they could have heeded the warnings put forth by those—such as Roger Williams, Anne Hutchinson, or the growing number of Baptists in the colony—who saw potential problems with such a close relationship between church and state.

Our history of evangelical fear might also include a chapter on the early 19th-century Protestants who feared the arrival of massive numbers of Catholic immigrants to American shores. They translated their panic into political organizations such as the nativist Know-Nothing Party and religious tracts cautioning fellow believers of the threat that such “popery” posed to their Christian nation.

Read the rest here.

Richard Mouw Defends the *Christianity Today* Editorial

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Richard Mouw is the former president of evangelical Fuller Theological Seminary.  Here is a taste of his piece at Religion & Politics: “The Prophetic Witness of the Christianity Today Editorial“:

At the risk of losing subscribers and harming their publication—which was attacked by the president himself on Twitter—Christianity Today delivered an important message. The prophetic editorial has been the occasion for renewed charges that Trump’s evangelical supporters have allowed political concerns to override concerns about presidential character. The president’s supporters do not dispute claims that he has said and done some highly offensive things. Instead, they tell us that we are obliged as citizens to support leaders who promote what we consider to be crucial political goals. And in this, they tell us, President Trump—whatever else we might say about him—has shown himself to be on our side. Christianity Today had a response to this as well: “To the many evangelicals who continue to support Mr. Trump in spite of his blackened moral record, we might say this … Consider what an unbelieving world will say if you continue to brush off Mr. Trump’s immoral words and behavior in the cause of political expediency.”

Read the entire piece here.

I also appreciate Mouw’s blurb for Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump:

Mouw

 

The Court Evangelicals Take a Photo

Most of them were there on Friday night:

COurt Evangelicals

I don’t recognize everyone, but I see Alveda King, Jack Graham, Jenetzen Franklin, James Dobson, Shirley Dobson, James Robison, Michael Tait, Greg Laurie, Michelle Bachmann, Eric Metaxas, Tony Suarez, Robert Jeffress, Ralph Reed, Johnnie Moore, Gary Bauer, Tony Perkins, Richard Land, Cissie Graham, Tim Clinton, Harry Jackson, and Jim Garlow, Paula White, and Guillermo Maldonado.

I wonder if Trump can identify them all.

Many of these people feature prominently in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

The *Believe Me* Book Tour: EXTENDED!

Believe Me 3dWith the January 7, 2020 release of the paperback of Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump and the upcoming primary and general election season, the folks at Eerdmans Publishing have encouraged me to revive the Believe Me book tour.

Because of my teaching schedule, I am unable to take long trips.  But we are currently booking dates at bookstores, colleges and universities, churches, and other venues for the upcoming year at locations under 400 miles from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.  (I am happy to entertain longer trips, but can’t make any promises).

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So far the Believe Me book tour has visited The Midtown Scholar Bookstore (Harrisburg, PA), Politics & Prose Bookstore (Washington D.C.), Penguin Bookshop (Sewickley, PA), The Book Loft (Columbus, OH), Carmichael’s Bookstore (Louisville, KY), Taylor Books (Charleston, WV), Givens Books (Lynchburg, VA), Quail Ridge Books (Raleigh, NC), Winchester Book Gallery (Winchester, VA), Chop Suey Books (Richmond, VA), St. Paul’s Episcopal Church (Richmond, VA), Hearts & Minds Bookstore (Dallastown, PA), Seminary Co-Op Bookstore (Chicago, IL), Valparaiso University (Valparaiso, IN), Cornerstone University (Grand Rapids, MI), Taylor University (Upland, IN), Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (Elkhart, IN), Hope College (Holland, MI), Southern Methodist University (Dallas, TX), John Brown University (Siloam Springs, AR), Emmanuel United Methodist Church (Laurel, MD), Princeton University (Princeton, NJ), Eastern Mennonite University (Harrisonburg, VA), University of Colorado-Colorado Springs, University of Southern California, Mechanicsburg Presbyterian Church (Mechanicsburg, PA), Whitworth University (Spokane, WA), Greensboro College (Greensboro, NC), Penn State-New Kensington (New Kensington, PA), Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (Hamilton, MA), and Lancaster Interfaith Peace Witness (Lancaster, PA).

If you are interested in setting-up an event please context Christine Walter at cwalter(at)messiah(dot)edu

I hope to see you on the road this year.

The *Pittsburgh Post-Gazette* on Evangelical Diversity in the Wake of the *Christianity Today* Editorial

Believe Me 3dHere is Peter Smith, one of the best religion reporters on the beat.  He gave me a chance to contribute to his piece:

Here is a taste:

These dynamics aren’t surprising to John Fea, a professor of history at Messiah College and author of “Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.”

Mr. Fea, an evangelical never-Trumper, dedicated his book “To the 19 percent,” alluding to the near-mythical “81 percent” figure often applied to white evangelical Trump voters in 2016 exit polls. 

Mr. Fea, whose arguments about Trump’s character and actions are similar to those cited by Christianity Today, said he got similarly varied and volatile reactions during his book tour in 2018. 

Some evangelicals disputed his arguments, saying Mr. Trump has delivered for evangelicals on long-sought policies, while other evangelicals supported him.

“What Christianity Today did was give voice [to the same kind of people] who came up to me and said, ‘Thank you, I know I’m not alone,’” Mr. Fea said.

They may still be largely alone — Mr. Fea isn’t expecting the editorial to cause a big shift among evangelicals. But given how close the 2016 election was, it may help shave off enough of Mr. Trump’s evangelical support to make a difference in 2020, he said.

And Christianity Today, whose cover stories in recent years have ranged from India and Thailand to Vietnam and Nigeria, is also looking at its broader constituency with diverse political views.

Mr. Fea said he’s heard “story after story” about American missionaries who face tensions with the local populace who assume that the missionaries fit the dominant political stereotype of American evangelicals. This editorial may help give them some distance, he said.

Gina A. Zurlo, co-director of the Center for the Study of Global Christianity, estimated that the United States has about 65 million evangelicals, more than any single country but dwarfed by the 355 worldwide as of 2015, with particularly large populations in Nigeria, China, Brazil and Ethiopia.

Read the entire piece here.  I appreciate Smith’s sensitivity to the global influence of Christianity Today.

This Reminds Me of What I Heard Every Night on the *Believe Me* Book Tour

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Christianity Today’s CEO Tim Dalrymple responding to critics of Mark Galli’s recent editorial calling for the removal of Donald Trump:

Reader responses to Mark Galli’s recent editorial have spanned the spectrum. We have received countless notes of encouragement from readers who were profoundly moved. They no longer feel alone. They have hope again. Many have told us of reading the editorial with tears in their eyes, sharing it with children who have wandered from the faith, rejoicing that at last someone was articulating what they felt in their hearts. They felt this was a watershed moment in the history of the American church—or they hoped it would prove to be. Stay strong, they told us, knowing we were about to reap the whirlwind.

I know some of these people.  I met them when I was on the road with Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump. I am glad that those in the 19% are finding their voice!

James Dobson Weighs-In on the *Christianity Today* Editorial

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Here is the latest from the court evangelical and family values champion:

I have read a new editorial published by Christianity Today that promotes impeachment of President Donald Trump. The editors didn’t tell us who should take his place in the aftermath. Maybe the magazine would prefer a president who is passionately pro-abortion, anti-family, hostile to the military, dispassionate toward Israel, supports a socialist form of government, promotes confiscatory taxation, opposes school choice, favors men in women’s sports and boys in girl’s locker rooms, promotes the entire LGBTQ agenda, opposes parental rights, and distrusts evangelicals and anyone who is not politically correct. By the way, after Christianity Today has helped vacate the Oval Office, I hope they will tell us if their candidate to replace Mr. Trump will fight for religious liberty and the Bill of Rights? Give your readers a little more clarity on why President Trump should be turned out of office after being duly elected by 63 million voters? Is it really because he made a phone call that displeased you? There must be more to your argument than that. While Christianity Today is making its case for impeachment, I hope the editors will now tell us who they support for president among the Democrat field. That should tell us the rest of the story.”

Statement made in my individual capacity.

Commentary:

  1. I answered most of Dobson’s critiques of Mark Galli’s editorial in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.
  2. When a president is removed from office, the vice-president assumes the presidency.  That would be Mike Pence.
  3. The framers of the United States Constitution instituted impeachment to discipline a president who committed “high crimes and misdemeanors” between elections.  Impeachment, in other words, does not overturn a presidential election.  I have seen too many court evangelicals and other pro-Trump pundits make the “overturning the election” argument.  It is wrong.
  4. Trump did not make a phone call that “displeased” Mark Galli.  He made a phone call that asked a foreign nation to investigate a political rival.  In other words, Donald Trump asked Ukraine to interfere in an American election.  The facts are clear.  Over 500 law professors and over 1500 historians agree. This was an abuse of power.

ADDENDUM

Historian Patrick Connelly offers a quote from Dobson made in September 2016 at Christianity Today: “If Trump turns out to be an incorrigible demagogue, we can hope he will be reined in by the political process. There are checks and balances in our system of government.”

Franklin Graham Offers Another Response to the *Christianity Today* Editorial. Says His Father Voted for Donald Trump.

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Franklin Graham has written a nice summary of the court evangelical position, the view of evangelicals and Trump that I address critically, as an evangelical Christian myself, in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

Here is Graham on his Facebook page:

My Response to Christianity Today:

Christianity Today released an editorial stating that President Trump should be removed from office—and they invoked my father’s name (I suppose to try to bring legitimacy to their statements), so I feel it is important for me to respond. Yes, my father Billy Graham founded Christianity Today; but no, he would not agree with their opinion piece. In fact, he would be very disappointed. I have not previously shared who my father voted for in the past election, but because of this article, I feel it is necessary to share it now. My father knew Donald Trump, he believed in Donald Trump, and he voted for Donald Trump. He believed that Donald J. Trump was the man for this hour in history for our nation.

For Christianity Today to side with the Democrat Party in a totally partisan attack on the President of the United States is unfathomable. Christianity Today failed to acknowledge that not one single Republican voted with the Democrats to impeach the President. I know a number of Republicans in Congress, and many of them are strong Christians. If the President were guilty of what the Democrats claimed, these Republicans would have joined with the Democrats to impeach him. But the Democrats were not even unanimous—two voted against impeachment and one voted present. This impeachment was politically motivated, 100% partisan. Why would Christianity Today choose to take the side of the Democrat left whose only goal is to discredit and smear the name of a sitting president? They want readers to believe the Democrat leadership rather than believe the President of the United States.

Look at all the President has accomplished in a very short time. The economy of our nation is the strongest it has been in 50 years, ISIS & the caliphate have been defeated, and the President has renegotiated trade deals to benefit all Americans. The list of accomplishments is long, but for me as a Christian, the fact that he is the most pro-life president in modern history is extremely important—and Christianity Today wants us to ignore that, to say it doesn’t count? The President has been a staunch defender of religious freedom at home and around the world—and Christianity Today wants us to ignore that? Also the President has appointed conservative judges in record number—and Christianity today wants us to ignore that? Christianity Today feels he should be removed from office because of false accusations that the President emphatically denies.

Christianity Today said it’s time to call a spade a spade. The spade is this—Christianity Today has been used by the left for their political agenda. It’s obvious that Christianity Today has moved to the left and is representing the elitist liberal wing of evangelicalism.

Is President Trump guilty of sin? Of course he is, as were all past presidents and as each one of us are, including myself. Therefore, let’s pray for the President as he continues to lead the affairs of our nation.

Christianity Today can defend itself, but here are my thoughts on this:

  1. Christianity Today did not just invoke Billy Graham to “bring legitimacy to their statements.”  They invoked Graham because he founded the magazine.  Like many important people, Billy Graham’s legacy is now a deeply contested one.  There are multiple evangelical institutions that are connected to his work.
  2. I am sorry to hear that the 98-year-old Billy Graham voted for Donald Trump and thought that, in Franklin’s words, he was the man for this hour in the history for our nation.”  This does not sound like the post-1974 Billy Graham.  After the Nixon debacle, he realized that these kinds of political endorsements hurt the witness of the Gospel and he stopped making them.
  3. Christianity Today is not a political outlet, but Franklin Graham is incapable of understanding Mark Galli’s editorial apart from politics.  GOP politics and evangelical Christianity are so welded in his mind that he cannot “fathom” the fact that good Christians might, on some issues, be closer to Democrats than Republicans.
  4. Franklin Graham does not believe that the POTUS is a liar. When Trump speaks to him, he believes every word he says.  This sounds SO MUCH like his father during the Nixon impeachment.
  5. I am guessing that Trump’s tweet this morning was informed by this statement.

The “*Christianity Today* Crowd” and the Evangelical Landscape in America

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I want to pick up on something I wrote at the end of an earlier post on Christianity Today‘s call for the removal of Donald Trump.  I referred to a Washington Post piece I published on July 17, 2017 titled “Trump threatens to change the course of American Christianity.”  In that piece I wrote:

Historians will write about this moment in terms of both continuity and change. On one hand, court evangelicals are part of a familiar story. For nearly half a century, evangelicals have sought to influence the direction of the country and its laws through politics. But Trump has forced them to embrace a pragmatism that could damage the gospel around the world, and force many Christians to rethink their religious identities and affiliations.

And this:

Not all evangelicals are on board, of course. Most black evangelicals are horrified by Trump’s failure to understand their history and his willingness to serve as a hero of the alt-right movement.

The 20 percent of white evangelicals who did not vote for Trump — many of whom are conservative politically and theologically — now seem to have a lot more in common with mainline Protestants. Some in my own circles have expressed a desire to leave their evangelical churches in search of a more authentic form of Christianity.

Other evangelicals are experiencing a crisis of faith as they look around in their white congregations on Sunday morning and realize that so many fellow Christians were willing to turn a blind eye to all that Trump represents.

If the court evangelicals were students of history, they have learned the wrong lesson from evangelical political engagement of the 1970s and 1980s. Trump’s presidency — with its tweets and promises of power — requires evangelical leaders to speak truth to power, not to be seduced by it.

Only time will tell how the landscape of evangelicalism will change as a result of Trump’s presidency.  But Mark Galli’s editorial today at Christianity Today has brought to light divisions in American evangelicalism that have existed since Trump got elected, but have been hidden since the 81% story hit the news.  Not all evangelicals are court evangelicals or Trump evangelicals.

As I argued earlier tonight, I still think the majority of evangelicals will vote for Trump, but Galli’s editorial will let the general public know more about the 19% of evangelical Christians to whom I dedicated Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump in June 2018.

Galli has given voice to what court evangelical Robert Jeffress once called the “Christianity Today crowd.”

Writing for the Public in “Perilous Times”

Trump Beleive me

Recently the editors of The Panorama, an online magazine published by the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic and the Journal of the Early Republic, asked me to compose a short piece on public writing.  The piece was published today under the title “Sometimes Writing History for the Public Means Forgetting Everything You Learned About Writing in Graduate School.

A taste:

Public writing is not for the faint of heart. The comments sections of online platforms are some of the darkest places on the internet. The discourse occurring every day on Twitter may be one of the strongest arguments for the Christian doctrine of original sin. But if we are serious about challenging citizens to think more deeply about the links between past and present, it is a cross that we must bear with courage.

Read the entire piece here.

“Evangelicals for Trump”

Believe Me 3dTrump is trying to win the religious vote in 2020 with a few new initiatives.  Here is a taste of Will Steakin and Rachel Scott’s piece at ABC News:

The president’s team said that in the first quarter of 2020 it will launch three coalitions — “Evangelicals for Trump,” “Catholics for Trump” and “Jewish Voices for Trump” — focused on expanding support for Trump within these communities.

If you are an evangelical, a vote for Trump may not be the best idea.  As a fellow evangelical, I tried to explain why in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  Thanks for considering it.

Trump’s Narcissism is Again Revealed as the House Announces Articles of Impeachment

Image: US-MEXICO-CANADA-TRADE

This morning the leaders of the House of Representatives stood in front of a copy of Gilbert Stuart’s 1796 “Lansdowne portrait” of George Washington and announced, for only the fourth time in United States history, articles of impeachment against the President of the United States.

The President, of course, is tweeting about it:

 

These are the desperate cries of a man who has committed high crimes and misdemeanors against his country.  He has abused his power and obstructed the House impeachment investigation.  Trump’s tweets remind me of this scene from November 17, 1973:

Nixon understood the gravity of his impeachment in the larger context of American history.  So, it seems, does Bill Clinton.  They both admitted (eventually) that they had done something wrong.  Clinton even described his behavior as “sin.”

Trump, on the other hand, thinks he has done nothing wrong.   Some people believe that Trump knows he is guilty, but continues to tell the American people that he is innocent because he wants to remain in power and preserve his legacy.  There is a lot of evidence to support this theory.

But what if Trump believes he is innocent because he has absolutely no understanding of American history, the U.S. Constitution, or the meaning of impeachment?  Here, again, is what I wrote about the relationship between narcissism and American history in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump:

But the problem with Donald Trump’s use of American history goes well beyond his desire to make America great again or his regular references to some of the darker moments in our past–moments that have tended to divide Americans rather than uniting them.  His approach to history also reveals his narcissism.  When Trump says that he doesn’t care how “America first” was used in the 1940s, or claims to be ignorant of Nixon’s use of “law and order,” he shows his inability to understand himself as part of a larger American story.  As Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson wrote in the wake of Trump’s pre-inauguration Twitter attack on civil rights icon John Lewis, a veteran of non-violent marches who was severely beaten at Selma: “Trump seems to have no feel for, no interest in, the American story he is about to enter.”  Gerson describes Trump’s behavior in this regard as the “essence of narcissism.”  The columnist is right:  Trump is incapable of seeing himself as part of a presidential history that is larger than himself.  Not all presidents have been perfect, and others have certainly shown narcissistic tendencies; but most of them have been humbled by the office.  Our best presidents thought about their four or eight years in power with historical continuity in mind.  This required them to respect the integrity of the office and the unofficial moral qualifications that come with it.  Trump, however, spits in the face of this kind of historical continuity….

Is Trump capable of understanding the gravity of what is happening to his presidency right now?